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Church of England publishes first national safeguarding standards

18 October 2023

The quality assurance framework set out in the standards document

The quality assurance framework set out in the standards document

THE National Safeguarding Team (NST) of the Church of England has produced its first set of national safeguarding standards, which are to be applied in dioceses, parishes, and churches, with immediate effect.

The 22-page document, incorporating a quality-assurance framework, was published on Tuesday morning. Its author is Dr Samuel Nunney of Cardiff University, who is the Church’s Research and Evaluation Lead for Bishoprics and Cathedrals.

Published on the C of E website, the standards have been developed over three years, “in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including victims and survivors”, the website says. The new standards do not replace, but “build on” existing policies and procedures, including the statement “Promoting a Safer Church”. This was originally published in 2006, concerning vulnerable adults only, but was significantly revised in 2017 to its current form.

The standards are to inform the second round of independent audits of dioceses and cathedrals which is to begin next year (News, 4 August). “It is not expected that every church body will be able to meet every indicator immediately and the auditors are aware that those dioceses and cathedrals in the early audit phase will have had less time to embed these standards,” the website says.

There are five standards: Culture, Leadership and Capacity; Prevention; Recognising, Assessing and Managing Risk; Victims and Survivors; and Learning, Supervision and Support. All of these are set against the question: what does good practice look like?

Unhealthy culture in the C of E, including deference, clericalism, tribalism, naïvety, concern for reputation, and a culture of fear and secrecy regarding sexuality, was repeatedly raised during the investigations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and its concluding reports (News, 9 October 2020).

The first standard seeks to promote instead a healthy culture, making the Church a safe space for disclosure.

Further to this, anyone being considered for leadership in the Church must demonstrate competence in safeguarding; those in leadership positions must “actively seek to improve their own knowledge of current safeguarding matters”, including through professional development, it says. They must also seek and respect advice from safeguarding professionals, and explore safeguarding “in a meaningful way” through cathedral and parish visitations and reviews.

The second standard, on prevention, says: “Levels of Church-related abuse can be reduced by individuals and Christian communities taking conscious preventative steps. Those who abuse will avoid Church communities where prevention is strong and target those where it is weak.”

This can be achieved, the document says, through safer recruitment, people management, promoting discussion about safeguarding and good practice, assessing risk, avoiding “lone working”, and setting boundaries.

This links to the third standard: identifying, reporting, and responding to risk in collaboration with others, including HR; recording concerns and personal information in line with GDPR; discussing safeguarding cases within work only; and carrying out formal risk assessments.

Fourth, victims and survivors of abuse should be “heard, understood, respected, taken seriously, genuinely cared for, and met with belief”. Responses to disclosures should be “survivor-centred and trauma-informed”, and victims and survivors should be made aware of “how personal information, data, and dignity are protected”.

Appropriate support in and outside of the Church should be offered. To prevent re-traumatisation, “When the Bible and Christian theology is used with victims and survivors, it is used sensitively, with their consent, in order to provide care and support only.”

Finally, on learning and support, clergy and church officers must ensure that their safeguarding training is up to date; those who deliver the training must continue to be assessed; and the “emotional and psychological needs arising from the traumatic impact” of working in safeguarding should be acknowledged, and clergy should be supported, and ordinands forewarned, accordingly. Anyone working in safeguarding should be inducted and supported, and their professional development should be monitored and kept up to date, the document says.

The extent to which these standards are being met is to be assessed against a new quality-assurance framework. It is recommended that the framework be applied over three years, to be accommodated within independent audits, performed every five years.

The lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, said that the standards would improve accountability in the Church. “All organisations, including the Church, must be able to demonstrate how well they are fulfilling their safeguarding responsibilities,” she said.

The standards will be applied to the parish safeguarding dashboard: an administrative website that collects all church safeguarding guidance, practice, and policy in one place. Church administrators can log in to view updates, while a traffic-light system indicates to PCCs whether action is required on parish safeguarding matters, and how urgent this is.

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